After enjoying two sellout runs at London’s Young Vic, Hattie Morahan is bringing her acclaimed performance as the famously emancipated heroine Nora in A Doll’s House to the West End’s Duke of York’s Theatre. The production won the 35-year-old actress Critics Circle and Evening Standard Awards alongside an Olivier nod and catapulted Morahan into the front ranks on stage and screen, including British TV series Outnumbered and Sense and Sensibility. Broadway.com caught up with the lively, intelligent performer late one recent morning to talk about making the classics contemporary, acting opposite babies and her fast-ascending career.
It’s rare to play a great role three separate times. How does it feel to be Nora yet again?
I’ve never done that before, and it’s been so rewarding. The first gap was really long, about seven months, whereas this one was only three months, but it does wonders for your perspective. Sometimes when you’re in the middle of a production, you can’t see the wood for the trees, but having a bit of time off allows you to re-examine your choices. It enables you to be even more forensic and to relax into the role more.
People have been amazed at how contemporary Ibsen's seminal drama feels in this production and in Simon Stephens’ new adaptation.
I think that’s all there in Ibsen and in what he’s written. The trajectory of the play and its dramatic conflicts offer a sort of master class in structure, along with the insistence of Carrie [Cracknell, the director] on absolutely playing the situation for real and trying to be as emotionally and psychologically accurate as you can. This is an enormously rich play with huge questions asked.
Ibsen’s narrative ends with Nora walking out on her family, presumably in search of her new self. Is that tricky to act given that the play is still so associated with the single action of her slamming the door on her old life?
The strength of that gesture can’t help but resonate given when the play was written and within its historical context. But I also think that if the play were purely about that act, then it would feel dated or quite thin when in fact Ibsen has written the most extraordinarily complex and rich drama that operates on so many levels. His concerns go well beyond the gender politics of a particular era to address marriage and partnerships and love and how difficult it can be to be true to yourself, especially as a woman.
Your mother [actress Anna Carteret] played Nora earlier in her career. Was that helpful in your own thinking about the role?
Well, that was about 25 years ago, so I was pretty young at the time [laughs]! I do remember her doing it and we have of course spoken about it, but I wouldn’t say that I had any sense of the role at all from the inside in the way I do now.
You’ve been in a relationship [with actor Blake Ritson] since you met at Cambridge University, so it must be fascinating comparing your real-life domestic situation to the one in the play.
Yes, we’ve been together 16 years, and I suppose, as with any work you’re doing, the play at hand makes you think about your own life and choices. There are moments in performance when I get a little flash of “I’ve done that,” but essentially [the play] makes me appreciate that I don’t have a marriage like Nora and Torvald’s! I’m incredibly relieved to be living in the time that I am.
You’ve achieved the sort of prominence in this part that Janet McTeer did some 15 years ago, when she ended up transferring to Broadway with it and winning a Tony Award.
There’s been a whiff of interest in us going to New York, and that would be a total thrill. But it’s funny with me and Janet’s performance: I think I could have gone to see it, but for whatever reason at the time I never did, and I’m quite glad now that I didn’t.
I just think she’s so astonishing, and from what I gather from having read about it, the sheer fact of her wonderful Amazonian physicality must have made the whole birdlike “doll” thing in the play even more painful and absurd. It’s been hard enough to shake off memories of Juliet Stevenson as Nora without having to add Janet to the mix [laughs].
Your production is also unique, as far as I know, in bringing an actual baby on stage. What’s it been like acting with an infant?
It’s been very odd, but quite wonderful, as well. I’m still in contact with the mum of one of the babies from our first run and I get these reports about her child getting bigger when of course in my head she’s several months old! People come to seem frozen in time: When they become movie stars, I can say, “I played your mother once!” [Laughs.]
Is it true that there’s a prop baby on hand in case the real one starts acting up?
There is, although that has yet to happen. Unless the baby is quite literally screaming, it tells quite a good story if they’re a little restless. We tend to be able to adapt what we’re doing to the baby.
This is certainly quite a change from your last West End appearance a decade ago opposite Seinfeld star Michael Richards in a revival of Arsenic and Old Lace.
I spent most of the time running around, playing Stephen Tompkinson’s girlfriend and being chased by Michael! It was great fun.
A lot of people thought you deserved the Olivier Award that went to Helen Mirren for The Audience. If you had won, you’d have made a clean sweep of all three London theater awards.
I actually kind of expected that Helen would win and certainly can’t complain about it. The whole award thing always feels like a bit of a game and very arbitrary at the best of times, and sometimes one sees the most extraordinary work that isn’t even nominated. In this instance, I just felt that it was a huge honor to be there, as well as being very much aware of the phenomenon—the tidal force [laughs]—that is Helen Mirren [as Queen Elizabeth]. She’s extraordinary.